You’ve got to be tough to be a professional wrestler. There’s really no way around it. Every night, pro wrestlers go out there and endure terrible physical abuse. We’re not even talking about death matches and hell in a cell falls here. Even a simple bodyslam or leg drop can lead to a career ending injury at worst and some serious morning pains at best. A few matches is all it takes for most people to know if they have a chance of turning professional wrestling into a career. There are no modern WWE wrestlers who don’t have to endure that pain.
That being said, there are few stars in the business today who can claim to be nearly as tough as some of the biggest wrestlers of the ‘80s. It’s a cultural thing. Back then, wrestling promoters typically looked for the roughest, toughest, meanest men and women they could find. These were people who endured a world of pain before they ever even stepped into a ring. They were bar fighting, nose breaking, hard living examples of how tough a person can get when they live without fear. Modern wrestlers may be tough, but these are the top 15 ‘80s wrestlers that are tougher than modern stars.
15 The Iron Sheik
It’s a bit of a shame that the Iron Sheik’s career has been boiled down to some radio sound bytes and a few “Did you know?” factoids on the WWE website because there was a time when Sheik was one of wrestling’s greatest heels. Sure, he played up the foreign bad guy stereotype en route to stardom, but that doesn’t mean that Sheik didn’t cause crowds everywhere to launch into near riots. Of course, if those crowds did decide to riot, they would have a tough time actually bringing Sheik down.
14 Paul Orndorff
If younger fans know Paul Orndorff at all, they probably know him as the guy that participated in those awful WCW segments involving the hotline psychic which have become a YouTube favorite. Long before Orndorff became a meme, however, he established himself as a tough young football player at a time when tough football players were some of the toughest men on the planet. Orndorff didn’t abandon his toughness when he became a wrestler, but he also didn’t try to make a career out of legitimately uppercutting people in the jaw like he did in football.
13 Arn Anderson
12 Corporal Kirchner
11 Terry Funk
10 The Barbarian
9 Angelo Mosca
8 Akira Hokuto
7 Stan Hansen
6 Bruiser Brody
5 Blackjack Mulligan
4 Dr. Death Steve Williams
The toughness of Dr. Death Steve Williams has been called into question because of his infamous participation in WWE’s “Brawl for All” tournament. As you may recall, the Brawl for All tournament was essentially designed as an elaborate vehicle intended to get Dr. Death over with the crowd. The plan got derailed when Dr. Death got legitimately knocked out. Even still, have you ever thought about just how tough you have to be before WWE decides to host a legitimate fighting tournament centered around you because they are so sure you’re going to win the whole thing? That’s super-villain henchman tough.
3 Bad News Brown
Bad News Brown is another one of those guys who some wrestling fans have the wrong impression of simply because he never really did much with his time in WWE. Honestly, Bad News Brown's tough identity doesn’t come from his time as a WWE wrestler. It doesn’t even really come from his time as a wrestler at all. Instead, Bad News established himself as one of the baddest dudes on the planet when he was a professional Judo fighter. Actually, Bad News was an Olympic medal winning Judo fighter who is considered to be one of the greatest Judo fighters of all-time by many experts.
2 Harley Race
The thing about many of the tough guys on this list is that you just have to accept some of the almost superhuman stories about their toughness are true and that some are embellished stories that wrestlers have kept alive over the years. In the case of Meng, even if 75% of the stories involving him are false, he is still the toughest professional wrestler that ever lived, much less an ‘80s star tougher than any wrestler today. The stories involving the fear that Meng inspired in his fellow wrestlers are too numerous to recall in full, but it should be enough that just about everyone on this list has said that Meng is the one person they would never mess with.
Jake Roberts has even said that if he had a gun and was tasked with shooting Meng from 300 yards out, he wouldn’t do it out of fear that he would only wound Meng and incur his wrath.
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